I think it would be fair to say that Christy Brown is remembered today thanks chiefly to Daniel Day-Lewis’ extraordinary mimicry of the writer/painter/poet, who had cerebral palsy, in the 1989 movie My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (it won 16 film awards including two Oscars). As Georgina Louise Hambleton writes, in her new biography, Christy Brown: The Life that Inspired My Left Foot, “It still perplexes me why Christy has been forgotten as an artist. In his poetry (all of which is now out of print) and his prose, his skills as a writer are vast.”
Most probably the memory of his Herculean victory over disability crowds our perception of him; it cannot be the case that his work was elevated merely because of the circumstances of creation – given the peer raves he enjoyed during his lifetime. Critics are usually not kind, only intermittently dishonest on good days. It would be best to rediscover his work when the air of schmaltz has thinned away.
Hambleton has many wonderful stories to tell – my favourite featuring Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland. Brown met the couple when he had grown famous. After just 15 minutes of their company, he turned to his sister Ann and said, “These people are awful wankers.” Hambleton adds: “Sellers (who had ignored Christy after their initial introduction) leant over to Christy’s ‘interpreter’ and asked, somewhat pedantically, ‘What’s that he’s saying?’ Ann did not know what to say, so she thought quickly. ‘Ah, sure, I don’t know,’ she said. ‘He’s speaking Irish.’”
Christy Brown: The Life that Inspired My Left Foot, Mainstream Publishing, £15.99. Click here to order